Thursday January 10th, 2008

PORTLAND, Ore. -- In review of my splendid Wednesday ...

In the morning, I wrote that Baron Davis should be elected an All-Star.

At noon, I met with Baron Davis to further discuss his candidacy.

At night, I stood in the locker-room hallway reviewing the autopsy report of Baron Davis' game against the Trail Blazers: 1-of-6 from the field for four points with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1 to 2, which was easier than usual to figure seeing as how he had one assist.

"I wouldn't put too much on what happened here,'' said Warriors coach Don Nelson, standing in the hallway next to me holding a beer while I was holding the stat sheet, thus giving him the upper hand.

Nelson realized in the opening three minutes that his team was flatter than ale from a bathtub. He tried to shake it up by calling a couple of timeouts early in the first quarter, but the Warriors were passively determined to lose 109-91 to Portland and there was no way to change it.

"There was just nothing there,'' he said. "It's not the worst thing in the world. It's hard to accept, but I think I've got to put this one behind me.'' At that moment, for emphasis, he could have downed the beer in one big gulp, which I'm sure he's capable of doing. But discipline was shown.

I congratulated Nelson for limiting Davis to 14 minutes amid concerns that he has been playing far too much recently.

"That's a good way to do it,'' the coach said as he walked away before mumbling something I couldn't hear. So I asked a fellow reporter. "He said, 'Next time he can coach the ---damn game,' '' he reported.

I think Nellie was referring to Baron, saying that next time he spends roughly three quarters on the bench, he can do some coaching too. But I wouldn't put too much on what happened there, because Nellie is prone to make jokes. Neither will I change my opinion that Davis is an All-Star. He's still averaging 21.9 points (No. 13 in the league), 8.0 assists (No. 7) and 2.3 steals (No. 2) in 38.9 minutes (No. 12) for the Warriors, who have gone 19-10 since Stephen Jackson's return from a season-opening suspension of seven games.

Of course, that run has been trumped by the relentless Blazers, who have now won 17 of their last 18, including 12 straight at home. In the meantime, Davis was coming off seven games in which he'd averaged 43 minutes of work, culminating in an OT win Monday against the Spurs when he was good for 34 points, 14 assists and no turnovers (another simple ratio) in 48 minutes that essentially ruined him for this game.

"It seemed like they were playing by themselves,'' Davis said of the Blazers as he dressed afterward.

A game like this serves odd proof of just how much the Warriors are asking of Davis this season, and just how hard he has to work to fill the orders. He plays like a fighter who wins by throwing knockout punches, but the knockouts don't come early. His oppressive style requires him to throw one roundhouse after another until either he or they succumb in the late rounds. It's as entertaining as it is enervating.

The Warriors can't afford to keep playing Davis big minutes, and they can't afford to bench him. Among point guards, he is a big, gifted bully who can force his way past any defender -- only to find two or three bigger bullies converging to waste their fouls on him. That's why Davis has been trying to adapt his game by avoiding the physical confrontations until the fourth quarter, as well as a few other times here and there when his team really needs him to mix it up. This is what he has learned after missing 130 games over the previous five years.

Davis is 28 in an older man's body, and as he enters what should be his peak years, he is playing with newfound urgency. He belongs in the conversation with Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups as one of the best point guards in the league, but to make it a foursome, he knows he'll have to quarterback his team deep into the playoffs as the other three have done. He is too talented to allow last season's first-round upset of the top-seeded Mavericks to stand as the high point of his career.

"What we did last year put us on the map and let people know that I should be considered with those guys,'' Davis said of Nash, Kidd and Billups. "The thing about those guys is they have great teams, and those teams have been constructed to win championships. Our team was constructed last year -- when Nellie came -- to try to make the playoffs. That was a first step.

"Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups, they're going to organizations that are used to winning championships [or] being in the playoffs, so their situation is a lot different than mine. My situation was to try to get this team to the playoffs. So that's the argument against me, that I didn't go deep in the playoffs, but you've got to look at how long this team's been together and how much we accomplished in a short period of time.''

Wednesday's lapse notwithstanding, Davis feels himself improving. "The game is coming a lot easier for me, as far as understanding flow and tempo and not forcing,'' he said.

In a few years, he envisions these Warriors contending for a championship, provided they remain these Warriors. "We have a lot of free agents and this is a critical year, a turning point for this organization to figure out where they want to be, how they want to be seen in this league,'' he said.

He can opt out this summer, and he sounded willing to give up next season's $17.2 million salary in exchange for a long-term contract. "The longevity, being able to have security for a long period of time, is the most important thing for me,'' he said.

Davis expressed a healthy approach to the All-Star debate when I met him at the Warriors' hotel Wednesday afternoon. Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Manu Ginobili, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Deron Williams and Brandon Roy are among his rivals for no more than six spots on the roster. Davis went out of his way to praise them before summing up.

"If I were to vote, I would vote for Obama,'' he said. In other words, there are bigger issues than whether he makes another All-Star team.

For instance, can Davis continue to play all-out without doing himself in? The Warriors need him to be their Kevin Garnett -- in a smaller package with a bigger scoring average. One exhausted night against the league's hottest team underlined that it hasn't been at all easy.

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